Biting the tongue that feeds you

DANCE Swinger The Place, London
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The Independent Culture
The title of Yolande Snaith's new show - Swinger - is both literal and misleading. Certainly, there's swinging aplenty in this florid evocation of the internalised minutiae of romantic love. But anyone geared up for a profile of party-loving, partner-swapping couples is likely to be disappointed. For the swinging here is of the more prosaic, to-and-fro kind, courtesy of an enormous, potentially lethal wooden pendulum which slices across the paths of Snaith's dancers.

The pendulum is a marker of time, balance and regularity. It is also a physical symbol of the emotional gamble involved in surrendering to or pursuing love. In its tick-tock mechanism you recognise the beat of what Roland Barthes called "the organ of desire": the heart; and it isBarthes' prose - specifically his A Lover's Discourse - that is at the very heart of Swinger .

Hassani Shapi, the work's seemingly unattached, yet clearly tortured, narrator wanders between bed, table and chair - all built to stand at the perilously tilted angles which have become a design trademark in Snaith's choreographic theatre of movement, language and objects - spouting extracts from Barthes' text. At the same time, alternating pairs of lovers act out their soft, dreamy enchantment, fusing harmoniously in duets of smooth, buoyant dexterity.

But they and Shapi cannot ignore the intrinsic hopelessness and despair within Barthes' analysis. While the mute but relatively contented couples engage in neatly brutal power struggles, Shapi - tormented by his own words and possessed by a demon of language "which impels him to injure himself" in the name of love - becomes increasingly crazed, turning rapidly on his heel and ducking over the table-top as the pendulum reels towards him.

Barthes describes language as a skin inhabited by the lover; indeed, Shapi scratches, grabs and embraces his discourse. But in doing so, he is also revealed as the monster, the "huge tongue" of a soliloquy that belongs to a madman. "Every lover is mad, we are told. But can we imagine a madman in love?" he asks. The answer is "never", but the sight of Shapi staggering across the stage, wild-eyed and angry, is conclusive proof of the damage and distortion wrought by passion. Meanwhile, his companions - Jane Howie, Stephen Hughes, Julien Joly and Desiree Kongeroed - hover on the periphery, becoming part of his fade-out - that "painful ordeal in which the loved being appears to withdraw...".

By the time Shapi finally retreats to the bed and undresses - a reversal of the action with which he opened the work - he is irrevocably broken and spent. Immobilised and silenced by his anxieties, he has either given up on love or decided that it's time for a rest. But despite the darkness of the whole scene - the pendulum set into motion while a lone male dancer sways in dutiful opposition - you sense that it's only a matter of time before history repeats itself.

n `Swinger': May 1-6, The Place, London WC1 (0171-387 0031)